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Showing posts from March, 2015

Direct Democracy and UUA “Citizenship” by Rev. Dawn Cooley

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I continue to play with the idea of direct democracy and how it might be applied to our Unitarian Universalist Association. There have been 3 assumptions driving my ideas:
Assumption #1: That we want to bring more diverse voices to the table of governance at General Assembly.
Assumption #2: What we have been doing is not working.
Assumption #3: Continuing to do the same thing and expecting different results is the definition of insanity.
My first post on the subject was a thought experiment that engaged the idea that direct democracy might be possible and the benefits it could bring. The second post was about how participation in a UU covenanted community would be one criteria of how to determine “UU Citizenship.”
So what might other criteria for “citizenship” be? Let's add one more assumption:
Assumption #4: One-size-fits-all solutions don't really fit everyone.
With this assumption as an addition to the other three, I propose that we could create several different categ…

UU Growth: Alternative #5 to Community Building Strategy

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Disclaimer: We are never NOT building a community. Building up the community around what we are doing is an essential part of organized religion. However, we don't have to make that the central piece of what we do, and how we describe what we are doing, and what we are asking people to join us in doing.

Alternative Strategy Five:


We are a church that invites you to make the profound spiritual commitment to the health of the Earth and her people. The planet is in the midst of a catastrophic ecological crisis and she needs people to organize their lives around making a difference in that crisis. So the people in our congregation are doing what they can.  We are involved in public social movement building and legislative advocacy. We've installed solar panels and windmills on our property. We do clean-up projects in our community. Our children take part in scientific experiments and learn about where our tap water comes from.  We partner with communities, often communities of colo…

Alternative Growth Strategy Summary

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The strategy of "building religious community" was based on the observation that there is a hunger for community, and it UU churches and congregation built a truly welcoming community, people would want to join it.

While it may be true that there is a deep hunger for community, the invitation to join UU communities has not been compelling enough to get a large response. So we have accepted slow and small growth as the best we can do.

Why shouldn't 1% of the US population be involved in some way with UU Congregations?

We need to be making a different invitation to people. Understand that the invitation we make to people is not the same as our overall mission. Reiterating that our overall mission is help people develop spiritual depth and make the world a better place is not the same as a specific invitation to a particular group of people to do something together.

As a way to think about this, I would recommend the following:

(1) Look at your mission statement and strip o…

UU Growth: Alternative #4 to the "Community Building Strategy.

Disclaimer: We are never NOT building a community. Building up the community around what we are doing is an essential part of organized religion. However, we don't have to make that the central piece of what we do, and how we describe what we are doing, and what we are asking people to join us in doing.

Alternative Strategy Four:

We are a theological center of religious liberalism. Our purpose is to challenge all theologies and interpretations that oppress and bind the spirit, especially the dominant religions in our community. We teach the long history of insurgent theologies and equip people intellectually and emotionally to declare themselves independent of shame-based, punitive religions. We do not avoid the theological message that conservative religion is aggressively promoting, but engage it head on. We build allies with other religious liberals in other traditions and learn from them. Our culture has always conducted its most important arguments in the language of theology,…

UU Growth: Alternative #3 to Community Building Strategy

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Disclaimer: We are never NOT building a community. Building up the community around what we are doing is an essential part of organized religion. However, we don't have to make that the central piece of what we do, and how we describe what we are doing, and what we are asking people to join us in doing.

Alternative Strategy Three:

Our congregation is where you go if you want your children to grow up to be morally and ethically strong and clear AND open-minded and curious about the world of differences. We are really one big, all ages cooperative Sunday School. Our primary purpose is to help families form themselves around spiritually progressive values: multi-culturalism, gender equality, healthy sexuality, right relationships, arts and sciences, etc. Every member, adult, youth and child, contributes to our educational activities. We offer that education/growth experience to every family in our community, regardless of their religious affiliation or none.

Most weeks, we have fami…

UU Growth: Alternative #2 to Community Building Strategy

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Disclaimer: We are never NOT building a community. Building up the community around what we are doing is an essential part of organized religion. However, we don't have to make that the central piece of what we do, and how we describe what we are doing, and what we are asking people to join us in doing.





Alternative Strategy Two:

Our church serves the community in which we live. People come to our church in order to work with the people of our community as they struggle to live and survive where they are. We run food pantries, and free stores, and build houses. We get involved in the local schools and the local library, if there is one. We know our neighbors and everyone knows our minister. Some Sundays we worship in our building, which we have turned into an incubator for community groups, grass roots businesses and other local faith groups trying to get started. Some Sundays we worship in a local park and some Sundays in a vacant lot. Some Sunday we worship with another church in…

UU Growth: Alternatives to the "Community Building Strategy"

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Disclaimer: We are never NOT building a community. Building up the community around what we are doing is an essential part of organized religion. However, we don't have to make that the central piece of what we do, and how we describe what we are doing, and what we are asking people to join us in doing.


Alternative Strategy One: 
The purpose of our congregation is to your point of deep connection to the global movement for justice. Your UU congregation will be place where you will hear serious talk about the issues of global justice in all their intersected forms: on a local level, regional, national and global level.  Here you will be invited to participate; here you will challenged, inspired, and educated; here you will sing songs and clap your hands and here you will meet other people in your community who are similarly motivated. Here is where your children will grow into global citizens. We cultivate the virtue of solidarity.We are an institution with a purpose: to contribute …

UU Strategy: How that Working for Us?

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For 40 years or more, UU’s have based on their strategy on this proposition: there is a deep hunger for community out there, and that if we built genuinely inclusive, democratic, welcoming communities, we will grow because we would be feeding such a deep hunger.

How many church websites feature a group picture of the congregation: cheerful smiles, many matching tee-shirts, a visual invitation "to come join our group"?

How many congregational missional statement explicitly say that their mission is to build a community where all sorts of good things happen?

How many sermons and worship services directly address the life problems of being in community?

Isn't our transformation strategy that we build a global Beloved Community by building a Local Beloved Community?

You can see why UU's of the 70's/80's took up this particular organizational strategy. It is a strategy of the lowest common denominator and the path of least resistance. There was no way to resolve the …

Climate change and the Apocalypse: Who shall be saved?

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As a global climate crisis bears down upon us, religious thinkers return to the questions thatdominated the Apocalyptic age: Is the present age doomed, and if it is, who shall be saved?

Salvation did not always mean eternal life in heaven after death. The redefinition of "salvation" as "healing" is even newer.

For a long time, salvation meant who will be spared from God's wrath when God writes the final chapter of human story, in fire and ice and blood.




There will be human beings who survive even the most disastrous collapse of human civilization. Human beings are creative, and adaptable, and ingenious. Even in the warm and watery future, some humans will survive, and their children will survive.




Who shall be saved? 






As it now stands, it is the global elite that will survive. They will migrate to the most habitable places; they will monopolize the resources needed for life; they will deploy the arms to protect themselves from the increasingly desperate masses. E…

The Longed-For Tidal Wave of Justice"

This is the rough text of the Institute Sermon delivered in Asilomar on Tuesday, February 3rd, to the 2015 UUMA Institute for Excellence in Ministry.




"The Longed For Tidal Wave of Justice."
I am retired; so many things fall away when you retire. You no longer have to be the most mature person in the room, whatever room you are in. You get Saturday night back. But mostly you give up your special chair on Sunday morning. Where should I sit? Sunday morning, I can sit wherever I want. I don’t have an assigned place. I found this so disturbing at first that I joined the choir, just to get my own chair. I like it because, now, I still get to sit up front where people can see me, and, I get to watch people’s faces.
I go to Ann Arbor congregation in Michigan where the issue of marriage equality is still a hot issue. My congregation (and now I am allowed to call it “my congregation”) is served by a minister, Her Holiness, the Rev. Gail Geisenhainer and his Associate Holiness, the Rev. M…

The Mission and Vision of the Liberal Church in History

A little historical essay about mission and organization in liberal religion: 
For most of its history, the mission of the liberal church was dogmatic and apologetic. Read through Channing's arguments with Calvinism; they are designed to educate and persuade. Religious liberalism had some very specific positions on the great theological questions of Christendom. Those questions were important to the people in surrounding communities. The mission of the church was to engage those questions and promote the liberal positions among the members of the community. The method of fulfilling the mission was the weekly worship service, which was primarily an adult educational program. The minister explained the liberal position on the most important questions of life (the theological questions) through the sermon; it was both teaching and preaching.
The authority of the minister was based on his knowledge about theology, church history and biblical interpretation. The minister was the religiou…

A Case for Reparations

The Department of Justice report indicates that the Ferguson city government deployed its police forces to extort money from its black citizens. Over the years, millions of dollars in fines were collected through the unequal administration of justice. Court records indicate exactly how much money was extorted from specific citizens.

And what happened in Ferguson, happened in numerous other municipalities in St. Louis County, all of which was equally unconstitutional and equally documented.

The people from whom those dollars were taken are owed them. All of the dubious charges, all of the fines, all of the fines levied because the original fines were not paid on time, all the penalties and interest and court fees need to be returned. Not as a matter of "development funds" or "community investment" or "public policy", but simply because stolen money must be returned from the criminal to the victim, to be used by victims for whatever purpose they choose. It&…

dialectical theology

"Theology is about eternal things". Someone once said that to me, objecting to what he called "political advocacy" in church.

And really, I suppose he was right in line with traditional theology. Theology was about the eternal structure of the world: the unchanging God, forever fallen humanity and the question of where each individual will spend eternity. Theology was about the unchanging truths which were to be applied to life. Theology was about the deciphering the current meaning of the timeless truths.

Dialectical Theology, on the other hand, assumes a conversation between the practice of theological reflection and the current state of the world. It assumes that what was once thought of as "eternal truths" and the "unchanging divine order" are, in fact, products of particular times and places. Theology is a summation of what people have conceptualized about the nature of life given their experience.

I recently wrote of the seven principles o…

General Assembly, Class Bias and a Democratic Faith

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Registration and Housing reservations for General Assembly opened the other day, which signals the start of the annual discussion of how expensive General Assembly is, and how ordinary people cannot attend because it costs too much. The search for an alternative plan is on, and while the posse is mounting up to chase the unicorn, I have a few thoughts.

And no, I don't believe that the solution is to do away with General Assembly altogether. Yes, I am in favor of having it every other year,if only for the reason that it would give us more time between these discussions. But then I hear that if we have GA every other year, on the off year, we can all gather for some other great purpose -- another Justice GA like 2012 -- which will also be too expensive, so why bother?

The unicorn we are hunting is some magic bullet which will make GA a cheap bargain that more people can attend. It will always cost more than many people can afford, and some of those people will let us know their dis…

Theological Reflection

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The First UU Principle states that UU congregations covenant to affirm and promote "the inherent worth and dignity of every person."

Today, the concrete expression of that principle is to say "black lives matter." That assertion is going up on banners on UU churches. Here in Ann Arbor, the congregation has given away over 900 buttons with that message.

How does one get from one assertion to the other? What is the path from the first principle to the present movement. As purely abstract principles, they seem to be born of a different spirit -- one, a universalizing impulse and the other, a particularizing gesture.

There are many explanations out there as to why "black lives matter" is the contemporary concrete application of the "the inherent worth and dignity of every person." I am not going to rehearse that argument, but make the following observation about it.

You can't go from one to the other without acknowledging the reality of systemic…